Scientists had believed it to have disappeared forever: traces of the “golden mole”, a small blind animal with an iridescent coat but hyper-developed hearing, were found for the first time after 87 years of absence, in South Africa. South.
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A team of researchers from a local NGO and the University of Pretoria, launched on the trail of the insectivorous mammal since 2021, announced Tuesday in a press release that they had spotted two specimens of the species known to “swim” in the sand, on the beaches around the small port town of Port Nolloth (northwest).
The animal was last seen, in scientists’ memory, in 1936.
The task for the conservationists and geneticists was tough: “Up to 18 kilometers of habitat dug into the dunes” were searched every day, Esther Matthew, field manager for the South African NGO, told AFP. Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
Scientifically called De Winton’s mole, the animal generally lives in burrows that are difficult for humans to access. And her keen hearing, which allows her to detect movements on the ground thanks to vibrations, also probably helped her to flee the teams set out to look for her.
“It is also very difficult to find the golden mole because the tunnel it digs while swimming in the sand collapses behind it. It then leaves no trace,” explains Ms. Matthew.
The scientists used environmental DNA to detect the animal’s presence, picking up the genetic traces it had inadvertently left here and there in the form of skin cells, hair and bodily secretions.
Researchers also located the moles using a dog. “It was like a detective novel,” says Esther Matthew.
Now “that we know that the golden mole still exists, we know that we can still save it,” said Devin Murphy, of the NGO Re:Wild, a research partner.
The golden mole is particularly threatened by mines and the development of residential neighborhoods near beaches, which encroach on their natural habitat, nature defenders denounce.